Sunday, August 30, 2009

Wow ... Just, Wow

For the past 30+ years, whenever I've been asked to name the most beautiful place I've seen, I've always answered Kashmir. Well, we have a close contender in Lago Atitlan.

But first, back to Chichi. Unfortunately, Ellery had quite a stomach bug overnight, so we got very little sleep. Fortunately, by morning it had passed, and so we were able to take in the market day we had so looked forward to.

And what a market it was. The town is completely taken over by the stalls, and the streets were so packed it was nearly impossible to get through them at times. What an amazing assortment was spread before us -- from produce to flowers to spices to brightly colored weavings to wooden masks, live chickens and goats, and dead ones as well. And we shopped and shopped and shopped, often from stalls but also from women and children who simply walked the market selling what they had. We bought fabrics and masks and small figurines -- Ellery even found an elephant to add to our collection.

A favorite purchase was a traditional outfit from the area. Which is not to be confused with the traditional dress from Santa Cruz or Sacapulas or Acul. Each town has a distinctive fabric skirt and a distinctive type of blouse, and all were on display on the women selling their harvests and wares.

By noon, we were worn out, and took respite in our beautiful hotel until 2 p.m., when we caught a minibus to Panajachel.
Along the way, the clothing changed again -- in Solola, men wore colorful embroidered pants, while in Panajachel the woman wore headresses of dark purple velvet. Like the road into Chichi, this one also wove it's way along and up the mountains, eventually descending into the valley. And I'm not sure I've seen anything so spectacular ... a huge beautiful lake, surrounded by imposing volcanos, their tips barely visible among the clouds.

We opted to stay just a bit out of town, and while I rarely will rave about a hotel, this one is a stunner. Spanish in style, the grounds are botanical gardens, filled with dozens of different kinds of roses, orchids and other flowers, and birds of every kind, some in cages but others simply drawn to area. And each and every room in the hotel has a view of the lake and the volcanos. Really, if there's a paradise, this is it.

After cooling off in the swimming pool, we headed into town for a few hours. Panajachel is like a mini-Kathmandu, a haven for backpackers and what passes for hippies in the 21st century, yet it still feels very much like a small Guatemalan town. After making plans to take a boat around the lake tomorrow, we decided on a vegetarian restaurant with a distinct Woodstock feel, followed up with desert and coffee at a nearby cafe ... a sweet ending to another wonderful day on the road.